Female Foeticide: India’s Laws Need to Lead Social Reform

Every year, the month of November brings the festive season of Durga Puja, wherein the great goddess Durga is worshiped for four days throughout the country. People from various parts of the country celebrate and enjoy this festival promising to bring ‘Durga Maa’ again next year. It is indeed ironical that India, which celebrates the female god for four consecutive days, rarely hesitates when taking the life of a young or unborn girl child, often referring to her as a ‘bojh’, or a burden. Female foeticide refers to this practice of illegally aborting a foetus, due to its future gender.

There are many regulations and legislations which govern the issue of sex selective abortions. According to the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994, determination of the sex of the child is prohibited for abortion and other purposes. In the recent judgement by the Mumbai High Court, pre-natal sex determination was considered be as good as female foeticide as pre-conception sex determination violated a woman’s right to live and was against the Constitution under Article 21.

Despite these acts and laws which prohibit female foeticide and make it a punishable offense, the girl child population in the age group of 0-6 years declined from 78.83 million in 2001 to 75.84 million in 2011. During 1991-2011, the child sex ratio (0-6 years) declined from 945 to 914. This happens as even though there are statutes in place, there exist certain private clinics which allow such tests after being bribed. Furthermore, couples who are wealthy enough, simply go to other countries where sex determination is a legal affair.

According to the first ever global study on female foeticide done by the Asian Centre for Human Rights, a Delhi based NGO, the major reason for such cases of foeticide is that the families prefer a son over a daughter as dowry was major problem for them.

The Ministry of Health Affairs has greatly deliberated the issue of selective abortion and has come up with the schemes such as Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Balika Samriddhi Yojana and the Dhanalakshmi Scheme, but according to the Population Research Institute, more than 1,200,000 sex-selective abortions had taken place in India between 2000 and 2014. This takes the daily average of sex-selective abortion to 2,000 and above. These statistics prove that despite living in the 21st century where man and woman are considered equal, females are still disregarded in society.

The change that India now demands and requires needs stricter laws and campaigns on woman empowerment. While it is a long held notion that women are the less powerful gender and an economic burden, it is time that India changes its mind-set because despite all the challenges and atrocities they have to face, women contribute more to the economy of India than men. It has to be taken into consideration that woman can not only balance work and family life but can also help the economy grow.

Taking into consideration that the Constitution of India — under Article 21—provides the right to life which is extended to the unborn, India needs better implementation of its existing laws while enforcing new, and more effective laws in place that are free of loopholes. However, no amount of legislation can ever be effective if the people do not believe in the reason behind it. Therefore, without a mental revolution that changes the mind-set of people, female foeticide will continue to plague India.

Contributed by Udepta

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